Interview Legendary Pink Dots: Edward Ka-Spel & Ryan Moore
By Ivan Drucker Portland OR, May 5 1993
This is an interview I conducted for KLC radio in Portland about three weeks ago. In retrospect, I realize that I was quite flustered at the time (for any number of reasons) and so this interview is far from perfect…there are a lot of things I meant to ask and didn’t, and there are some things I don’t know why I asked at all, but in any event, here it is. I hope you enjoy it. (This was conducted before I was on this (cloud Zero) mailing list, and thus I was in communication with very few Dots fans…)
me: I have a friend who saw you in Los Angeles, said your show was great…
EK: That was a good show…definitely the best of the tour.
RM: Probably one of the top three since I’ve been playing with the band.
me: How is this tour going…how far are you in it?
RM: We’re almost exactly at the halfway point now.
EK: Yeah, L. A. was the halfway point…although there may still be a couple of shows coming on that make this the halfway point.
me: I imagine you’re meeting plenty of different sorts of audiences?
EK: It’s similar…a lot depends on the age of the audience…when it’s an all-ages show it tends to go better than if it’s an over-21 show. This particularly American phenomenon…we don’t have this in Europe at all. L.A. was an all-ages show, sold out…it was an extremely electric night for us. We almost had slam-dances [laughs]…which I’ve never seen a slam-dance at a Pink Dots show before.
EK: Crowd-surfing, that was what it’s called. There was only one person…
RM: And I suppose it was actually disruptive
EK: It was during the slowest song, it was strange!
me: Really, what song?
EK: “Close Your Eyes, You Can Be A Space Captain.”
me: Oh, you played that! Are you going to play that tonight?
EK; Don’t know, depends. We change it from night to night.
me: Oh, that’s interesting…that’s one of my favorite tracks actually.
EK: Well maybe we’ll play it then! [laughs]
me: The new records — Shadow Weaver part one and part two — to me those sounded as though they represented a shift musically, in terms of song structure and the way the songs and sounds were set up…was that a conscious decision?
EK: It represents the band at a particular time. It represents a band that had just changed. Ryan joined us for the Shadow Weaver project, and Martijn had just come into the band as well, and it’s his first recordings with us. So it’s like two new inputs into the band. And to a point we were getting to know each other, in these recordings, and it was, you know, very rewarding for the old members of the band as well. There was a lot of experimentation, a lot of improvisation, in the studio. It’s always nice to have a fresh, new breeze going through the band.
RM: As far as being a conscious decision, how everything turned out, I would say it was more of like an unconscious decision. It was more a result of throwing the five of us in the studio, having a few peanut butter sandwiches, and that’s just what would come out…I would say that the common thread between it all is the fact that there was little or no pre-planning.
EK: That’s true, and it was fresh in the aftergrowth of the Tear Garden recordings, as well, very soon afterwards, which had lifted us quite a lot, we enjoyed that. That’s where we met Ryan, he plays on the Tear Garden, and he flew six thousand miles to join us…[laughs]
me: I thought it was interesting how different the two Tear Garden albums were.
RM: You mean “Last Man to Fly” with what came before…I think once again with that you hear the effect of different people bringing in their influences…
EK: It has to be said that “Tired Eyes Slowly Burning” you actually hear how the Tear Garden itself was evolving. The first side, actually, all the music was composed before I even got there…things that cEvin had made. All I had to do was simply write the lyrics and sing. The second side, however, was written there and then in the studio between the band, as such. The second side, I think, relates very much more towards “Last Man to Fly” than the first side does. So you are seeing an evolution…it’s not just a sudden “flip the coin.”
me: There have been a number of lineup changes over the years…has that, aside from bringing in new influences and producing new results, have you felt that has changed what the band is in some way?
EK: Essentially the thought and spirit within the band I think is completely unchanged from the very first day when we sat in this cold little room, wrapped up in overcoats because there was no heating, and jammed away for fifteen hours. I think that technically the band has come along quite a way, like myself and Phil, the two originals, we both play better than we did back then ’cause we never even touched a keyboard before that time. But sure, new people coming in all the time, it must have its influence and it must change the sound in subtle ways but I think the Pink Dots always sounds like Pink Dots. It’s a band that’s never made a career move in its entire existence, it never will, it can’t…more like it’s this underground institution, and it’s really an institution, it’s a lot of lunacy… [laughs]
me: What kind of following do you have at this point?
EK: Well…a very curious following, I would say. I mean, in L. A., someone was arrested before the show because he was trying to get in with a gun. In San Francisco I was given a dead scorpion, a plastic rat [laughs], some kind of amulet which is obviously some kind of magical thing…I mean, all of this is blowing my mind. I have no idea why anybody would want to come to a show with a gun (I actually don’t want to know either), I have no idea why anyone would want to give me a dead scorpion or anything like that…I think in some ways these people are actually getting the wrong idea. A lot of the people are quite obsessive who come to the Pink Dots shows. A lot of the people are gentle, sensitive, great people…but some go a little over the line and sometimes make you want to escape in the corner, to be honest.
RM: I would sort of classify it as a small but loyal following. I mean it’s around the world, in Europe, America, in Israel…
EK: There’s even one fan who’s actually come from Belgium to see this tour. That’s quite dedicated, I’d say…In America especially, we encounter a lot of travellers, some people travel like 800 miles a show, day and night just to get to the show.
me: I’m actually quite excited because I’ve never seen the band live before.
RM: Oh! Well, you never know what’s going to happen…I would say the one thing that sort of typifies the present mode of the band and going on tour is that you never know what’s going to happen. Every night is different, it’s a constant mutation in the sound, and how we approach the songs, from one night to the next and definitely from the beginning to the end of the tour it’s changed.
EK: And it all depends on the atmosphere. We’re very sensitive to the audience itself and the space that we’re playing in. San Francisco was very different to Los Angeles even though we actually played the same songs in those two shows (bar one, we just changed it by one song). It’s quite a voyage, in itself, the tour, musically for us, not just what we see, but…
RM: There’s all sorts of factors, the kind of which I can’t even put my finger on, that make these changes.
me: You make, I think, a very personal sort of music but you express that in a lot of different ways…I’m curious as to how you feel the expression of ideas through music and how those are presented, be they political ideas or personal ideas…
EK: It’s entirely personal. I’m not trying to preach to anybody. I like people to fill in their own spaces in the lyrics. They may actually come up with interpretations that are completely different to how I saw those particular songs, and that’s fine, that’s what it’s meant to be like…I get a little allergic when people sort of like hold me up as the person who speaks the Great Truth…it’s only one truth, it’s my own ideas, it’s my own view and it could be completely wrong. And I can also change my mind from time to time! I deserve that right, I’m just a human being, you know…
RM: I think the thing that some people miss in Edward’s lyrics is actually the fact that he’s someone with a big sense of humor. I think many things have a very ironic quality to them.
me: I’d say that would be hard to miss, actually…
EK: Well, some people do miss it completely, unfortunately [laughs]. Like the guy from Brasil who wrote to me just saying how intensely depressed he was all the time, and…*You Are To Blame!* [suddently pointing his finger outward], pointing the finger at me. I mean, what do you do! I don’t know this guy, yet he’s blaming me for his perpetual depression.
RM: I guess it’s something that’s open to interpretation, so what one person could conceive as, you know, the grimmest, most depressing, darkest, gloomiest thing you could possibly imagine, another person could get an image of soaring through the clouds with images of sun beaming down.
EK: In some ways it’s all things, it’s like all colors, it represents the entire spectrum. There are dark moments, for sure, because who amongst us doesn’t have a dark moment when he looks inside himself.
me: Have you encountered any problems either in touring, or artistically, or with your record label that impede what you’re doing?
EK: You mean the industry…I mean nobody dictates to us what we must do, and any attempts at that have been absolutely shot down at birth. Once in a while Play It Again Sam, the record company, will say, “Can we hear a demo tape” and we will automatically say, “No.” And we simply deliver the master tape, and the deal is that they have to release it. Sometimes they don’t promote it, because they weren’t so fond of Malachai, it went very much out of the lunatic threshold for them…and yet it’s doing as well as anything else. I mean, the Pink Dots does. We reserve the right to take the journey where we want to take it, where we want to see it go. And the album will have its own head space…we already know what we want to do for the next album, we know the kind of direction we want to take it — and it’s a constantly changing direction.
RM: To elaborate more on that subject, the other side of that is that necessarily because our involvement with the music business is so minimal due to the sort of loathesome characteristics contained therein, that necessarily keeps the band small. Because we don’t want to play that game…that also has the effect of keep it at a very underground level.
EK: We can’t relate to the music industry as such. We’re with a label that’s good, I think…I would never put them down.
me: I remember reading that you said you were on finally on a record company that didn’t rip you off.
EK: That’s right, and it’s a relationship that goes over years. Everybody before, actually, treated us appalingly before this label. At least there’s a nice mutual respect. They stick with us as we stick with them. We actually haven’t had a written contract for five years, so it shows there’s actually a decent level of trust — and I like it this way.
RM: We’re also self-managed, as well, so there’s nobody pulling our strings really. We do whatever we want.
me: Was Shadow Weaver conceived of as a two-part project?
EK: It was conceived as a two-project, but it was a very loose concept. I mean the way we worked it out is that we noticed that there were a whole number of songs in a particular mood, that made there a subtle journey within itself, and that’s what became part one. The wild experiments we had — the improvisations, the mini-symphonies, things like that, they sort of like seemed to sort of go together very well on part two. And the completion of the two parts, there was actually a three-month bridge in between. We hadn’t actually finished part two when part one came out, you know, we carried on working for a little bit, but largely we wrote them side by side.
me: You, I think, create sort of a fanciful image of the band, in your names, they way they’re presented, in the artwork, and it kind of varies from record to record and I think it’s interesting to see what overlaps from one record to the other in terms of various characters or themes that are repeated. I’m curious as to where you draw upon that from, or whether it just comes from somewhere, or…
EK: Impossible to say. It’s like one big tapestry, really, and it’s a tapestry that sort of like is extended and extended, and sure characters reappear, references come…I mean, musical references like “We Bring The Day”…sort of the tune of the little song part of “We Bring The Day” actually appeared once before for ten seconds on “Khataclimici China Doll.” Things like that reoccur…reference points, points of reflection that you have to bring it, to tie it all together. I like things that way. Pink Dots never actually made a concept album; in a way the tapestry is the concept.
RM: And who knows where it leads…I mean it’s kind of like now we’re on a new trail and definitely there’s lots to explore there. I’m pretty excited about it…I kind of find these latest records, you know, it’s just the sound of we’re kind of finding our way. There’s lots of possibilities.
me: What do you see the relationship as being between the Dots and your solo work, or the Dots and side projects?
EK: It’s a bit within this idea of the tapestry, they go side by side. On a personal level, the Pink Dots is very much five people putting in their ideas, it’s very important. The solo records, actually, reflect my need sometimes to be a dictator. I can’t be a dictator with a band, I’m not that kind of person and don’t want to be, but I do have a need, within me, to have complete control on certain things, and that’s what ends up as a solo album because I can start dictating to myself, and take it the way I want to go. It’s just one side of me, and as long as the solo records are there that need is satisfied, and the band doesn’t feel like it’s in chains or anything. I don’t want that…a band is a band.